Myopia, or nearsightedness, is the term used to describe a condition of the eye in which people can see close objects clearly but distant objects appear blurry. When we see images, light rays pass through the cornea and lens at the front of the eye and focus on the retina at the back of the eye. For a person to see clearly, the image must be focused directly on the retina. If the back of the eye grows too fast and becomes too long, the image is blurry because it is focused in front of the retina. An optometrist can then provide eyeglasses to help move the image on to the retina so it can be seen clearly. As the back of the eye continues to grow, stronger glasses are needed to treat the condition.
Learn more about myopia from the AOA, American Optometric Association, or view this infographic about myopia from All About Vision.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Myopia?
No one is certain of the exact cause of myopia, but current research shows that common school-age myopia is triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause the eye to grow too long.
- Genetics: Children with two myopic parents are more at risk to develop myopia.
- Environment: Different factors in the environment have been shown to increase the risk for myopia, especially excessive near work and limited time outdoors.
- Near Work: Studies have shown that increased time spent doing close visual work such as reading or using computers and other electronic devices increases the risk for developing myopia.
- Time Outside: Several studies demonstrate a link between reduced time spent outdoors and the risk of developing myopia.
When Should Myopia Be Treated?
Myopia normally starts between 6 and 11 years of age and stops progressing around 15 or 16. Treatments can have the greatest effect when a child’s myopia is just starting to develop between 6 to 8 years of age. However, they can also be effective in slowing the further progression of myopia in patients with higher amounts of myopia such as young adults who face intense indoor study.
How Is Myopia Treated?
Traditionally, optometrists prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses to help children see clearly at a distance. But this treatment doesn’t help stop or slow the eye growth underlying myopia. For many children, the eye continues to grow too long, and stronger lenses are needed as their vision deteriorates. In addition, there are sight-threatening complications if the eye grows very long, increasing the possibility of blinding eye diseases later in life.